Sleep Better, Feel Better

by UB Therapist Andrea Watkins

One commonality between my clients is sleep – and having trouble with it. Whether it is trouble getting to sleep at a decent hour, falling asleep or staying asleep, I would say 90 percent of my clients struggle with one of these issues. There is so much research out there validating the wary relationship between poor sleep and increased risk of mental health issues, it isn’t surprising to me that I see this so widely in sessions. It is sad to see even my littlest clients having trouble with staying asleep. This prompted me do some research and provide more help to my clients and beyond.

Here are some basic facts about sleep:

– In general, healthy adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep a night, though some can function fine on 6 hours, or may need 10 hours to not feel tired during the day. Children and teens need approximately 8-10 hours of sleep a day.

– It used to be thought that our bodies shut down during sleep, but it is actually the opposite. Yes, our bodies “recharge,” but the brain is still very active.

– There are several stages of sleep, where the first three hours of sleep are the deepest (slow wave sleep) and we dream in and out of REM (rapid eye movement). Sleep cycles generally change every 90 minutes.

– There are more and more studies linking genetics to good and bad sleep. Check with your parents to find out more about their sleep history.

– Recent studies note about two-thirds of patients with sleep issues report having a psychiatric disorder as well.

– You cannot make yourself fall asleep, just like you cannot make yourself digest your food quicker. The only thing you can do is make the settings compatible for good sleep.

That being said, it is crucial that we try our best of promote healthy sleep hygiene for the sake of our health, both psychically and mentally. Here are some tips I’ve compiled to help jump start healthy sleep habits:

1) Keep a consistent wake/sleep time, even on weekends. I know we all want to sleep in on the weekends, but staying with your work-week alarms for morning and night has its benefits. Staying up later and sleeping later in the mornings has shown to have similar affects as traveling into different time zones, where experts gave coined the term “social jet lag” for these symptoms. It makes for a tougher Monday morning!

2) Set your room up for the most comfort possible. Temperature, darkness, noise, even the color or smell of your room can make a difference! Science says: Lavender smells help calm, shades of blue, green and purple are best for bedrooms, temperature should be between 60-68 degrees, room should be dark (no bright lights or blinds open) and room should be very quiet, but not too quiet (white noise machines or fans do wonders! I can’t sleep without one ever since college – I blame/thank my freshman year roommate!)

3) Nap carefully. Two words — power nap. If done correctly, a little day nap can boost memory and job performance, but make sure the snooze is no more than 30-45 minutes and not too close to bedtime.

4) Experiment with different pillows or look into a new mattress. So sometimes the sleep isn’t about you, but about what your sleeping on! Is your mattress too stiff, lost its padding or too short for you? Think about a new mattress– from personal experience, getting a memory foam mattress was a Godsend! Is your pillow too fluffy or too thin? Or just kinda old? Generally, pillows should be replaced every 12-18 months due to dust mites, especially if you have environmental allergies.

5) Pay attention to liquid consumption. Caffeine should be cut out in the afternoon (only decaf coffee/tea at night!) Consumption of alcohol can also play a factor. Lastly, try not to drink too much liquid at least an hour before bed, to minimize nightly visits to the bathroom.

6) Exercise can help. Many studies have concluded that physical activity, even if it is for ten minutes a day, can improve sleep. Take a jog, run around with the kiddo or dog, or hit up the gym or yoga class before the day is done (but not too close to bedtime).

7) Unplug yourself before bed. Don’t be tempted to lull yourself to sleep by watching TV in bed or catching up on social media as you put yourself down. Bright light is a major trigger that keeps the brain up longer than you expect, so power down your phone, tablet, TV or computer at least an hour before bedtime. Try reading or listening to music.

8) Quiet the mind. I am totally guilty of ruminating in bed for long periods of time and I feel like this is a symptom I hear from many of my clients with sleep difficulties! If you do this, it means you haven’t spent enough time winding down and processing your day. Consider journaling, writing a to-do list for tomorrow, or doing some simple mindfulness and/or meditation exercises to calm the mind.

9) If you can’t sleep, get out of bed. Laying in bed, thinking about how you should be sleeping, getting frustrated that you can’t sleep, watching minutes pass getting loser to when you have to wake up– agh, so stressful! Get yourself up and out of bed and do something soothing and with minimal bright light to help make yourself tired again.

10) Eliminate possible distractions. Try your best to do this! Leave your phone downstairs. Boot the dog/cat from your bed. If your significant other is a sheet-hogger, consider sleeping with separate sheets. If you or your partner snore, consider getting some help with this through a doctor. Get rid of that snooze button habit, because interrupted sleep is no sleep at all!


1) Klein, S. Nov 24 2014. “37 Scientific-based Tips for Better Sleep Today.” Huffington  Retrieved from

2) Unknown. 2011. “Facts About Sleep.” Retrieved from

3) Unknown. 1 Oct 20010. “Sleep and Pychiatric Disorders.” Cleveland Clinic Online. Retrieved from

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